Some coins are just plain fun and the stories surrounding the 1814 large cent put it in that group. The stories just help to make an otherwise pretty good date even better.
The 1814 large cent, as well as those from 1808, started out with something of a problem as the group is simply not of the same quality as earlier dates or those that followed. Apparently the copper was softer and did not wear as well. That makes these dates tougher to find in better grades.
The 1814 had a mintage of 357,830, and that total was divided by varieties with either a plain or a crosslet “4,” although both are priced basically at the same level.
The times were unsettled to say the least. The War of 1812 would not help when it came to copper shipments and the operation of the Mint. 1815 saw, for the first and only time, no cent production because of a copper shortage.
One of the stories surrounding the 1814 is that it is unavailable in full red condition because it was used to pay Mint workers’ back wages in December of that year. That story, if true, would make the 1814 very tough in Mint State as the average employee at the time was probably much more interested in getting his money than in collecting coins.
If there is any truth to the story, it does not seem to be reflected in prices as the 1814 currently lists for $54 in G-4, which is fairly inexpensive considering the mintage. The 1814 lists for $2,800 in MS-60. The only other date to list that low from the 1808-1814 period is the 1812, which had a mintage of more than 1 million pieces. The prices do not suggest any real problems.
The grading service reports tell us that a full red example of the 1814 is basically unavailable. However, Mint State examples do exist. Numismatic Guaranty Corporation has graded a total of 10 in Mint State. Professional Coin Grading Service has seen many more, reporting a total of 39 in Mint State. Like NGC totals, PCGS shows no real scarcity of the 1814 in upper grades.
The 1814 was an interesting sensation as well. This little-known story seems to have surfaced in New England in 1832, when it was reported that people were paying as much as 75 cents for a single 1814 cent despite the fact that prices of less than 20 cents were the general rule. It appears that gold had allegedly been mixed in with the copper in 1814, causing speculation. Another report was simply that collectors could not find the 1814 and they started offering small premiums that simply got larger and the idea that anyone would pay over face value for a cent got blown up into a rumor that the coins actually contained gold.
None of the stories about the cents containing gold were true and of the other stories it is hard to determine just how much truth they contain as well. Of course, with so many stories and the known fact that the 1814 is of a group that did not wear well, it does make it a reasonable purchase at today’s prices.
When you consider that mintage of 357,830, the 1814 looks like a very good deal. After all, that mintage, while not looking especially low at the time, is still well over 100,000 pieces less than a 1909-S VDB. While demand for the 1814 cent is certainly far below a key Lincoln cent, you have to feel that you are getting a very interesting coin and a pretty good deal in any grade.